“Curvy Widow” is a musical manual to surviving a lover’s loss

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Chris Shyer and Nancy Opel in the musical comedy
Chris Shyer and Nancy Opel in the musical comedy "Curvy Widow," at George Street Playhouse. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Many self-help books have been written on the sensitive topic of surviving the loss of a spouse. Few, if any, have been written from the bemused perspective of the person who must pick up and move on with their new situation. Curvy Widow, the final production of the George Street Playhouse’s last season in its old home, is just that: a humorous musical taken from the true-life experiences of playwright Barbara Bobby Goldman.

"Curvy Widow" scene with Nancy Opel. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
“Curvy Widow” scene with Nancy Opel. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

We first meet Bobby during a typical day — managing her own construction firm, arranging not only her schedule but also that of her husband, author/playwright James Goldman (The Lion in Winter; Follies) — keeping everything under control. That is, until Jim’s untimely heart attack leaves her with what she feels is half a life. The remainder of the ninety-minute show follows Bobby’s trial-and-error approaches to redefining herself as a single woman, facing such pitfalls as disastrous first dates, online dating services, and sex sites (where her handle is Curvy Widow) She also struggles with her own doubts and insecurities. Is she behaving the way widows are supposed to behave? Should she be even thinking about having a sex life? Can she, should she, create a formula for finding a “Mr. Right?” And if she finds him, what then?

Nancy Opel and Andrea Bianchi in the musical comedy "Curvy Widow," at George Street Playhouse. Photo by T Charles Erickson
Nancy Opel and Andrea Bianchi in the musical
comedy “Curvy Widow,” at George Street
Playhouse. Photo by T Charles Erickson

Playwright Goldman’s autobiographical play is translated into a comic operetta with the musical contributions of songwriter Drew Brody. Using elements of Goldman’s originally non-musical script, Brody’s numbers easily move the story with humor and emotion through Bobby’s creation of her new life and her rediscovery of the whole and complete person she had always been. Together, Goldman and Brody lead the audience to comprehend the reasons behind Bobby’s decisions at the end of the show, and make the audience wish her well wherever her life will lead.

Tony Award nominee Nancy Opel’s performance as Bobby gives ample evidence why Ms. Opel’s talents have always been in demand. She inhabits Bobby, bringing her to full, emotionally messy life as though the part was written specifically for her. Ms. Opel is ably supported by the six-person ensemble, playing multiple roles. Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de Haas, and Elizabeth Ward Land make a fine Greek chorus as Bobby’s friends, relating their take on the new widow’s progress (or lack thereof). As for the men in Bobby’s life, Ken Land, Alan Muraoka, and Christopher Shyer provide on-point comedic portraits of the Mr. Wrongs Bobby learns to navigate around — and the Mr. Right’s she stumbles upon.

Aisha de Haas, Chris Shyer, Nancy Opel, Alan Muraoka, Andrea Bianchi and Elizabeth Ward Land in the musical comedy "Curvy Widow."
Aisha de Haas, Chris Shyer, Nancy Opel, Alan
Muraoka, Andrea Bianchi and Elizabeth Ward Land in the musical comedy “Curvy Widow.”

Director Peter Flynn and choreographer Marcos Santana ably guide the talented cast, although Mr. Santana seemed a bit constrained in some of his movement choices. As part of the reason for such constraint, I would have to say the main set of Bobby’s downtown loft with its multiple playing levels, while beautifully designed by Rob Bissinger, did not light the choreographer’s imagination. As usual, George Street’s design team — Brian C. Hemesath on costumes, Matthew Richards on lights, and the team of Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab on sound — create the world of present-day downtown Manhattan with fine touches.

Curvy Widow, with its solid story, firm direction, and excellent performances — especially that of lead Nancy Opel — make for an entertaining evening in the theatre. It is upbeat, it is hopeful, and it is funny. For a fine May evening in the theatre, I can recommend spending time with Bobby Goldman, the fabulous Curvy Widow!

Elizabeth Ward Land, Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de Haas, Chris Shyer and Nancy Opel in the musical comedy "Curvy Widow."
Elizabeth Ward Land, Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de
Haas, Chris Shyer and Nancy Opel in the musical comedy
“Curvy Widow.”

Curvy Widow is presented by the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick through May 21. For tickets and information, visit www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org.

PLEASE NOTE: During his pre-performance speech, Artistic Director David Saint announced that after this season George Street Playhouse would be presenting shows at Agricultural Hall on the Cook College campus of Rutgers University for the next two years. This interim location is at 103 College Farm Road, just off of Route 1. It will be used until the State of the art New Brunswick performing arts complex is completed. Demolition of the current George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre, and construction of the new complex is planned to begin this summer. The new theaters are optimistically scheduled to open in time for the 2019 season.